As the beat constables prowl around, angry eyes try to gauge every outsider, wary of intrusion into the Jat way of life, where killing your own children in the name of honour is “necessary to protect future generations”
The horrific murders of Dharmendra, 22, and Nidhi, 21, on 18 September and the complicity of their families may be spine-chilling for any outsider. But to the Jats of Garnavati village in Haryana, 130 km west of New Delhi, Narender Barak alias Billu Pehalwan, accused of the murders, has become a legend, and the honour killing is a bloody reminder for the youth looking for love within his/her village.
“People from the same clan and village cannot marry each other. That is against our social norms. Do you allow siblings to marry in your community?” asks Rajeev Singh, 28, echoing the 50-odd people that TEHELKA spoke to in Garnavati. “(Nidhi’s father) Billu Pehalwan has done the right thing and we will stand by him. The satgaam khap(seven-village council) shall meet soon and agitate for Pehalwan’s release. This is a community matter.”
That same evening, six men sat poking at the bodies in the crematorium trying to make sure they were burnt properly. Beedi smoke mixed with the odour of burning flesh hung in the air as they kept reassuring each other that the right thing had been done. “Ours is a peaceful village. The two were good but they made a mistake, so this had to be done,” says a man in his 50s, who refused to identify himself except that Nidhi was his granddaughter and Dharmendra, his nephew.
The Jats have decreed that girls and boys of the same village or gotra (clan) are siblings and thus forbidden from falling in love or marrying, but they allow the boys and girls to study in the co-educational government schools.
It is at such a school in Garnavati that Dharmendra and Nidhi fell in love when they were in Class X in 2008. When they were in Plus Two, the affair was discovered and Billu Pehalwan had Dharmendra beaten up as a warning. Dharmendra’s brother Pavan says his family didn’t object because they too consider it incestuous. But they admitted to Pehalwan that Dharmendra was beyond their control and washed their hands of the matter.
The two young lovers resumed their affair shortly afterwards. A local policeman speculated that mobile phones had fuelled the forbidden relationship.
On 17 September, Dharmendra left home saying he had some college work to attend to. Nidhi made a similar excuse and the two eloped, headed for Delhi, with the help of Dharmendra’s friend, Ravi. Nidhi’s parents found out that evening and Billu Pehalwan told Pavan that he would have to take this to its logical conclusion. Pavan agreed and said Billu Pehalwan was free to kill Dharmendra as long as he killed his own daughter first.
The next day, Nidhi’s mother convinced her that the two families had discussed the issue and were ready to accept the relationship. Billu Pehalwan, his brother, son Sunny and Pavan left to get the lovers back from a dhaba near Bahadurgarh on the Delhi-Rohtak road.
On the ride back home, Billu and Sunny started beating up the couple. Fearing for his life, Pavan got off the car and walked home. The couple was dragged inside the courtyard of Billu Pehalwan’s home, where he runs a dog-breeding farm. First, Dharmendra was tied to a tree and Nidhi was killed. He was then beaten and all four limbs dismembered. Then he was decapitated with a sickle.
A villager claimed that the bodies were paraded in the locality on a tractor-trolley. Billu Pehalwan stood on the trolley and shouted how he had protected the honour of the village and Jats by killing his daughter and her lover. Then, he dumped Dharmendra’s corpse outside his house and warned his family of dire consequences if they took the matter any further and then set about cremating Nidhi.
Many villagers speculate that fearing for their lives, Dharmendra’s family called the police. Rohtak DSP Anil Kumar arrived first with his bodyguard and Billu Pehalwan tried to ward him off with a pitchfork that he was using to stoke the flames of Nidhi’s funeral pyre. Billu Pehalwan and his brother were subdued and the charred remains of Nidhi were pulled out of the pyre.
The police said that they recovered the murder weapons and the blood-soaked clothes of Billu Pehalwan, his brother and Sunny, who ran away when the police arrived. Billu Pehalwan, his wife and brother were taken into custody. Sunny took shelter at a local politician’s house, who coaxed him to surrender the next day.
Pavan and his family don’t want to lodge a formal complaint, but condone Billu Pehalwan’s act by parroting what the rural Jat community is saying: “What happened was necessary for us and our future generations.”
The scene in Dharmendra’s small two-room house, guarded by 10 policemen, is gloomy. His sisters-in-law cook in a corner of the small yard while friends, village elders and relatives tiptoe in and out to show their sympathy. None of them want to talk to the media.
In Nidhi’s house, the scene is a little more desolate. Policemen have been deployed to protect the house, the only human occupant of which is Nidhi’s septuagenarian grandmother. Two Pugs bark shrilly from cages in a makeshift room in the yard, while an English Mastiff and a Rottweiler stand in puddles in their cages after a sudden shower.
“A calf died this morning,” says Nidhi’s grandmother, who doesn’t want to reveal her name. She described her granddaughter as an obedient, homely child who had to pay the price for disobeying the Jat norms. “There was a lot of commotion that day and I don’t know what happened. What she has done is incest and cannot be condoned,” she chokes and looks away.
The police have arrested her sons, daughter-in-law and a grandson, while another is absconding. But the police have not arrested Pavan or Dharmendra’s family members who also played a part in the honour killings.
After his arrest, Billu Pehalwan told the media that he felt no remorse and had done it for their honour. Even the police custody is a routine affair where those arrested are just passing time while the police appear to ‘conduct’ an investigation.
The political pressure is subtle and exercised through discreet visits, with the politicians worried about their public image inside and outside the Jat community.
Usually, such killings are hushed up, but locals point to incidents where incestuous love had created havoc. A few months ago, a boy from Rohtak asked a Garnavati girl to marry him. She refused since it was considered a forbidden relationship as she was related to the boy’s family and she knew the consequences. The boy shot her dead, then shot himself and jumped into a canal, but was rescued and is now in custody awaiting trial.
In another incident, a girl poisoned her entire family because she loved a boy in the same village and knew that her family would not allow the relationship.
Over a hookah, Jats of neighbouring Sudana village explained that incest and inbreeding led to recessive genes and health problems. “Our forefathers had put these restrictions based on scientific reasons,” says Pratap Singh Dhaka. “We support Billu Pehalwan for what he has done. But the government is inciting more incidents by allowing court marriages and giving money to those who elope.”
Policemen posted in the village are equally defensive about the honour killings. Some of the on-duty constables said that ‘incest’ would meet the same fate.
The influence of khaps on politicians is well-known and they have to literally seek the blessings of khaps before campaigning in their areas during election time. Rohtak is the home territory of Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda who won from the Garhi Sampla Kiloi constituency.
“The Congress or BJP, CM or MLA, no one can try to influence the khap to act against our norms. We will protest against Billu Pehalwan’s arrest and the politicians will have to give in,” says Chaudhary Pratap Singh Dhaka, a former sarpanch.
‘I told him that if you kill my brother, make sure that you kill your daughter first’
Pavan Barak tells why his brother deserved to die
Dharmendra was the life of the family. But what he did was wrong and we told the girl’s family that they should do what was right. Even now, we have told them we will neither retaliate nor testify.
The eldest among us is Bholu, then myself and then Dharmendra. He had this gift of walking into the room and saying something ridiculous that would anger us in a second and then make us laugh the next. Dharmendra was not ambitious. He just wanted to enjoy life.
He had been having an affair with the girl for at least five years. When they were in Plus Two, the girl’s family found out about them and they complained to us. We told them that they should talk to their daughter because we had tried talking to Dharmendra, but he wasn’t listening. When confronted, Dharmendra said that the girl was not at fault and that it was his responsibility. No one made an official complaint to the panchayat then because it would mean earning disrepute for both the families.
The two then went on to study in college and contin ued their affair, but we didn’t have proof. On 17 September, my brother left saying he had to go to Rohtak for some college-related work. Later, his friend Ravi came and told us that he had possibly left for Delhi with the girl. That evening, Nidhi’s brother came over and called us to their residence. There, her father said that my brother had eloped with his daughter. What could we do because my brother was guilty. So, I told him that if you kill my brother, make sure that you kill your daughter first. We told him that we have no objection and we have no remorse now that he is dead.
We found out that Dharmendra was in Bahadurgarh and they brought him here, killed him and threw his remains at our doorstep. I was hiding because their anger could have driven them to do anything.
Nidhi’s father called us and said, “We have killed him. Our respect for you is the same as always. I have done what was needed and now you can do what you like.” We said we wouldn’t do anything and we haven’t filed any case.
Someone called the police and then they came here, followed shortly by the media. We have not spoken to any mediaperson until now because we don’t want this fight to spill over to future generations. But the matter reached Delhi and the police registered a case.
It’s not that we are under pressure from anyone or that we are scared of anyone’s power or wealth. We only fear what our elders have to say. My father said, “Had we been in their place, we would have done the same. The village’s honour is what matters.”